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A soup to begin with…

A Basic Soup from Twelve Months of Monastery Cooking

Saint Basil Soup Photos by Francine Mastini

Part of my Resolve for the year is to learn to make soup. Not just any soup, really DELICIOUS soup. I can make soup, but it’s not one of those things I can throw together without wringing my hands and worrying it’ll all come out tasteless and … let me explain.

Mondays, when I was growing up, was Soup Day. Mom took whatever she had leftover and made a soup out of it. Sometimes it was yum and sometimes … it was not so yum, to put it blandly. Ahem…

My grandmother made great soup, unfortunately the recipes weren’t easy to duplicate without a lot of trial and error. They were like the one I gave for Escarole Soup, spoken and missing lots of things she assumed you knew, like to braise the escarole or to add some pepper.

Recently, my friend Courtney pointed me to a book, Twelve Months of Monastery Soups, from which she swore the Country Mushroom and Sour Cream Soup recipe was the best she’d ever made.

I had to have the book, I had to try the recipes…

As usual, I decided to make a project out of it. Because that’s what I do… So, I put it on my Amazon Wishlist and hinted heavily to my husband for Christmas. Since he’s an amateur monk (my Thom) and the book is written by a real monk, Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette, I figured it would be wrapped creatively under the tree, which it was. Naturally. Hence the new tag “Twelve Months of Soups” for you to find them more easily.

Mirepoix in the stockpot

Let’s start, I thought, at the very beginning… and before this breaks into the Von Trapp Family singers, it is a very good place to start in this book. The reason is twofold. First, the most basic of all of the book’s soups is the first one, Saint Basil’s Soup. Saint Basil is the father of communal monastacism—even my fellow Benedictines agree on this point. So basic a soup comes from the organizer of one of the very first soup kitchens and this soup is a building block containing a building block, the mirepoix.

The book is organized, as you might already have guessed, into twelve months. Each month has a selection of soups from which the ingredients are seasonal. They’re not all vegetarian and some are most definitely for the omnivorous, but there is a good selection and it is very humbly presented. The layout is unpretentious and the recipes are simple and easy to follow.  This, I believe, is the genius of Brother d’Avila-Latourrette and why I have decided to go through the book by month.

As I said previously, a good soup depends on a good mirepoix. Ohno! I hear you say, a good soup depends on a good stock. OK smartie, what goes in a stock? Right… onion, celery, carrot… which is what we use to make a mirepoix, or as my Italian grandmother said, soffrito (in a very thick Neapolitan dialect).

Saint Basil, according to historical records, organized a soup kitchen during a famine in Caesarea in 370.While you’re at it, the Winter is the hardest time of year for the local food pantries to keep stocked. Bring a can of container or two of soup stock to your local soup kitchen.

Mmmm... soup!

Saint Basil’s Soup
(from Twelve Months of Monastery Soups)

Serves: 4-6

  • 6 tbsp  oil (I like Olive Oil)
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 celery stalks, sliced
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 2 quarts water
  • 2 bouillion cubes of choice
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chopped parsley
  1. Wash and thinly slice vegetables
  2. Pour the oil into a soup pot, Add the vegetables and sauté them slightly for 2 or 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
  3. Add the water and bouillion cubes. Cook the soup slowly in a covered pot over low heat for thirty minutes. Add salt and pepper and the chopped parsley. Simmer the soup for 10 minutes and serve hot.

In forty-five minutes, you can have an excellent soup on the table, “Try it. It’s good.”